Film Review: The Fly, 1958

Happy October 31, everybody!

In keeping with the fine tradition I began last year with Nosferatu, this Halloween I bring you a review of another classic horror film, this time with a dash of science fiction:  the original version of The Fly, released in 1958.  No messing around on the spookiest night of the year; let’s get down to brass tacks.

Acting

Fair warning – The Fly may be sold to you as a Vincent Price film, but to say it stars Vincent Price is a gross exaggeration designed to cash in on the film’s most well-known name (much like how the packaging on my copy of the original Roger Corman Little Shop of Horrors gives the impression that Jack Nicholson stars in it, when his part is actually quite minor).  Make no mistake, the real star here is Patricia Owens.

The only character in the film presenting an acting challenge.
The only character presenting an acting challenge.

Owens’ biggest challenge in this one was to portray the crumpling of Helene’s ideological resolve in favor of life’s sacredness, when Helene must face the monstrosity her husband has become and the impossible task of finding a specific fly (so that Andre the supposedly noble scientist can reassemble himself – which begs the question, if it’s the fly’s head on his body, why does the body act like it still has his mind – able to communicate with Helene through the typewriter, etc.?  Shouldn’t the fly head think like a fly?  I guess one might as well ask why the story is set in Canada.  But I digress).  Did Owens meet this challenge?  Personally, I wasn’t convinced.

Use of Color

Does that red look a little too red?
Does that red look a little too red?  This jpeg kind of tones it down.

Remind me to watch as few films which tout their “Color by De Luxe” as possible.  I’m sure that many great films were made in the 1950s but the hyper-colors present in The Fly really distracted me, particularly for the first quarter or so before I adjusted enough to mentally dial them down.  The reds and the yellows were the worst.  Too bright, too strong.  Not painful to look at, but as I said, distracting.  Maybe they would have been appropriate for a musical, or something starring Marilyn Monroe that ends with a wedding –  but here, they were the opposite of spooky.  Maybe for my next October 31 feature, I’ll track down something else in black and white, like Nosferatu was.  That worked much better.

Themes

When I told my husband after the credits rolled that the moral of The Fly is that all men are idiots, I was only half-jesting.  I’m sure that wasn’t the intended message, but this film’s optimistic attitude toward scientific progress, questioned only once and only by a woman, got repeated decades later in the blockbuster Jurassic Park – except in Jurassic Park the character who delivers the moral, Ian Malcolm the chaotician, warns that ‘life will find a way’ to mess with scientific plans.  Period.  In The Fly, ‘life’ takes the form of a hapless housefly.  But chaoticians hadn’t been invented in the 1950s.  There’s no one there to warn the viewer except Helene, and not even her own son takes her seriously, so why should the viewer?  The character who gets to deliver the last word on the theme of scientific character is Price’s businessman, François, and he writes off Andre’s tragic fate as due to “carelessness”.  If Andre hadn’t been careless…  Bah.  More like If Andre had possessed inhuman perfection… or If the nature of existence were fundamentally different…  But that’s the 1950s for you.  Where we weren’t cruel, we were naive; where we weren’t naive, we were short-sighted; where we weren’t short-sighted, we were greedy.  I’d like to think that decades of postmodern philosophy have made a difference.  It’s quite possible that all they’ve made us is depressed.

Overall Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0.

Have a nice holiday, everyone.  Do some fortune-telling if that’s your thing; if not, stay out of the graveyards, the cops pay more attention tonight, you’re likely to get busted.

samhain

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